Healthy Italian Ricotta Dessert

I am in a constant battle between satisfying my sweet tooth and maintaining a healthy diet to remain “in-shape”. It’s a struggle many people face on a daily basis because desserts are just so delicious, but having a healthy, toned body is both mentally and physically satisfying.

It seems to be about that time of year where people furiously exercise their bodies in the gym and cut down on beer and ordering pizza at 2 AM, because spring break is right around the corner… This is definitely hard for most of us to do, but the warped pressure society puts on men to be buff and women to be tiny is tremendous, so we do it.

Italy is a country I have been dreaming of traveling to at some point in my life. I am hoping to get the opportunity to study abroad there in the near future. Between the presentation of the food, the flavors and most of the ingredients being made from scratch, Italian food is unbelievable.  I’m lucky to get such an amazing taste of it in the North End of Downtown Boston. Here lies a “Little Italy” with the most incredible food and DESSERTS. Mike’s Pastry and Modern Pastry are two of the most famous Italian pastry stores in the nation. They make the most amazing cannolis and other desserts using ricotta cheese. The recipe I made satisfies the taste and texture of many traditional Italian sweets.

This dessert is truly one of my favorite healthy Italian recipes, but there’s one more reason why I love it SO much… its simplicity. The ingredients are minimal and the preparation time is short. As college students we don’t have too much time to make elaborate meals in the kitchen, so this Italian Ricotta Dessert becomes even more appealing because you can whip it up in 2 seconds!

So let’s get started!

Ingredients: Tub of low fat or fat free Ricotta Cheese, unsweetened cocoa powder, Stevia drops, Vanilla extract, and dark chocolate chips.

First, put the Ricotta (1  3/4 cup per tub) into a mixing bowl and add 4 teaspoons of cocoa powder.


Next, add one teaspoon of Vanilla extract.

After, squeeze three squirts of the Stevia drops into the bowl.

Finally, add as many dark chocolate chips as you’d like.

Mix together until all the ingredients are blended into a mousse-like texture.

Cover, and refrigerate for 15 minutes.

And just like that you’re done and have a guilt-free Italian dessert to satisfy your sweet-tooth.

Nutrition Facts:

Servings per container: 3.5

One serving = 1/2 cup.

Calories: 130

Total Carbohydrate: 14g

Sugars: 7g

Total Fat: 2.25g

Exploring the Cinque Terre

Preparing to take off over seas exactly two weeks from today, I’ve found myself buried in research of the most exciting adventures to be had in Europe. I’ll be making my way from Amsterdam, over to Budapest, down Italy and around to Spain, but I’ve found some of the most intriguing attractions to be beyond the obvious. I am counting down the days until my arrival in the Cinque Terre, Italy.

Manorola. Photo by World in Focus (Flickr)

Manorola. Photo by World in Focus (Flickr)

The Cinque Terre are five towns along a section of northern Italy’s Mediterranean coastline with incredibly scenic mule trails connecting them. The trails range from fairly easy to challenging. Whether you’re an experienced hiker, or leisurely walker, there is a trail for you. While there are several free trekking paths, trail #2 is by far the most popular, making the admission fee acceptable for most tourists. This trail is miles long, leading from the northern town of Monterosso to the southern Riomaggiore. Check out this map for a closer look at the various paths. The Via dell’Amore, also known as Lover’s Lane, is a spacious, flat and smooth section of trail #2. “It’s famous for its kissing statue and tunnel covered in declarations of love,” according to Elena Ciprietti’s article on www.walksofitaly.com.

Via dell'Amore. Photo by Twice25 and Rinina25 (WikiCommons)

Via dell’Amore. Photo by Twice25 and Rinina25 (WikiCommons)

The path from Corniglia to Vernazza is more challenging. This path takes climbers to the highest point in the Cinque Terre and back down. Among olive groves, exotic flowers and plants you’ll find a stunning view worth the extra effort exerted to get there.

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Peak of the Cinque Terre. Photo from Elena Cipriette on walksofitaly.com

There are also several free challenging path options for more experienced hikers. Regardless of what path you take, you are guaranteed a beautiful view and it seems pretty difficult to actually get lost. This is great news to someone with a poor sense of direction such as myself! The Cinque Terre can be hiked in a day or leisurely spread out across a few days, giving visitors plenty of time to enjoy the towns and food they have to offer. For a personal look into the experience of bloggers who’ve hiked the paths visit Of Elephants and Castles blog or Italy Beyond the Obvious here.

Emulating Germany’s Automotive Success

Photo from bmwblog.com

Photo from bmwblog.com

When people in America say “The BIG Three” you know they’re talking about GM, Ford, and Chrysler. But use the phrase  anywhere else in the world, and no one will even think of those American automakers. As of 2013, the largest automotive company in the world, by revenue, is the Volkswagen Group with $270 billion in revenues. Daimler AG (i.e. Mercedes-Benz) comes in 3rd with $162 billion and Bayerische Motoren Werke AG (i.e. BMW) comes in 7th at $106 billion. What I’m getting to is that Germany is the world’s largest and most influential car manufacturing economy.

Germany alone produced over 5.6 million cars in 2012, putting them in 4th place behind China, Japan, and the US, though that discounts the fact that the German firms listed above produce a considerable number of the cars in aforementioned countries as well as in Mexico, France, and many others. The true “BIG Three” are thus, VW, Mercedes, and BMW.

If you want to count being the biggest auto manufacturer as producing the most cars, that’s fine, but it means having razor thin profit margins when compared to competitors and it means cutting corners. Toyota tops VW in the number of cars it produces, but the fact that they brought in $60 billion less in 2013 shows that people are willing to pay a premium for a better car. The VW Jetta, for example is aimed squarely at the Toyota Corolla and VW tries to keep the Jetta’s price the same as the Corolla’s . However when customers didn’t like the 2012 Jetta’s torsion beam suspension, VW threw it out and began offering the car with a more expensive fully independent rear suspension and sales picked up.

Photo from ConsumerReports.org

Photo from ConsumerReports.org

During the recession, VW focused, not on austerity or cutting corners, but on developing new models and opening new plants. This helped the company substantially to maintain year after year growth even in Europe, where car manufacturers have been struggling to keep their heads above since 2009. An online post from the British magazine Autocar highlighted the point back in 2009 stating:

“In the first nine months of the year, VW Group’s sales were up 34 per cent to 622,853 units. This has been helped by the launch of new Golf and Polo models, with sales of these up 54.1 per cent and 56.2 per cent respectively.”

Forbes interviewed Mercedes-Benz vice president of marketing and saw a similar trend in their strategy:

“Mercedes still managed to emerge from the recession with renewed momentum, launching five new models and building share of market, as it is looking to its 14th consecutive year of sales growth in 2011.”

This success has not gone unnoticed. The Fiat group which owns the brands Fiat, Ferrari, Maserati, Lancia, Alfa Romeo and now Chrysler (they sound like a HUGE and important company, now, don’t they?) is now only afloat because they purchased a controlling interest in Chrysler right before the European economy tanked. For Fiat executives, turning Chrysler around was a fairly easy job, turning around the Italian side of the family is turning out to be a much more difficult task. Fiat is now looking at the VW Group as a model of how to succeed.

One example of how the Italians are taking their cue from the Germans is the way that Fiat is rebooting Maserati. Maserati is an old company with a racing heritage. A good comparison to Porsche, where VW has found a balance between catering to the masses with it’s Cayenne SUV (which literally doubled its sales), it’s Panamera Sedan (which was meant to double sales, but fell a bit short), and it’s lower priced Boxter roadster, while maintaining it’s company heritage with 16 variations of it’s 911 on offer. Porsche is now releasing a small SUV called the Macan. Porsche sold 160,000 cars to Maserati’s 15,400, last year, as Reuters pointed out.

The upcoming Maserati Levante at the 2011 Frankfurt Auto Show. Photo by David Villarreal Fernández

The upcoming Maserati Levante at the 2011 Frankfurt Auto Show. Photo by David Villarreal Fernández

So, the Reuters article notes, Maserati released two new sedans (the Ghibili and the Quattroporte, the blog Jalopnik has a great review of them) that share various components with other Fiat group vehicles, the way Porsche gets the same air-conditioning or window motors in it’s vehicles as say the VW Jetta. Following Porsche’s strategy, Maserati has an SUV and a sports coupe in the works.

Fiat is catching on. They are realising why it is that the Germans are propping up the European Union. The only question is will other European car makers catch on before it’s too late?

This post is for the Germany in Europe Campus Weeks initiative, information can be found at the German Information Center website.

Winning International Cinema’s Beauty Contest

the-great-beauty-3

Photo from Janus Films

The most beautiful films are always, in my opinion, the most thought provoking and tend to only do well on the art house cinema circuit. Think films like Melancholia from the controversial director Lars Von Trier, the enchanting yet, at times depressing, Bill Cunningham New York, or the quirky Werner Herzog‘s Cave of Forgotten Dreams. The most beautiful film of this category got its due at this year’s Academy Awards where Italian director Paolo Sorrentino‘s La Grande Bellezza (English translation: The Great Beauty) won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.

On the surface, the film is about Jep Gambardella, a society writer (played by Toni Servillo) turning 65 and reflecting on his lifetime living among the intellectual and powerful of the beautiful city of Rome. He considers himself the king of “the High Life” as he attends and comments on grand parties, theatre, and watches performance art. He does this while rubbing elbows with Catholic clergy, famous authors and actors, and important members of political parties. The film alternates between Jep dealing with growing old, his flashbacks to when he was young, and him doling out witty attacks on people who he believes to be utterly non-sensical.

But below the surface the film really reflects on the lines between vanity and beauty; truth and belief; honesty and reputation. The film simultaneously tells us that we need to enjoy the small (and great) beauties in life while not getting too big for our britches.

The film features the best soundtrack you’ve ever heard paired to a film. Not to mention stunning visuals of some of Rome’s lesser known features and the way the city blends with nature.  The film is full of art from sculptures, clothes, buildings, performances, writings, and plays, to a flock of flamingo’s who stop on the main character’s balcony during their migration.

32_Toni_Servillo_foto_di_Gianni_Fiorito_05313.JPG

Photo from Janus Films

In December, Sorrentino sat down with the Guardian to talk about the film. He said that it was a commentary on Italian society and the film’s main character is meant to express Sorrentino’s own feelings:

“There is a precise correspondence between him and me. The way he feels about people and the heart and parties are very close to me. I am not usually a guy that goes to parties, but many of his ideas are exactly mine.”

Despite being a film that critiques Italian culture, there was much excitement in Italy when the film won its Golden Globe. La Gazzetta del Mezzogiorno quoted Rome’s Mayor as saying that

“The triumph of The Great Beauty at the Golden Globes is a source of deep pride for our country and in particular Rome, portrayed in all its extraordinary charm, despite its contradictions”

There was a great blog from Serena at Transparent.com who actually polled a handful of her Italian friends who has seen the film and was kind enough to translate their answers. The answers varied from people loving the film, to being confused by it, to thinking it was overly critical of Italy. The general consensus, though; it was beautiful, but “too long!”

02677.jpg

Photo from Janus Films

My suggestion: make yourself a dry gin martini or grab a crisp bottle of Chardonnay and make an evening out of watching the most beautiful film you’ll ever see. Whether you buy Sorrentino’s critique of Italy or not, you’ll definitely end the evening with a sense of cinematic satisfaction.

The Great Beauty can be streamed from Amazon or downloaded on iTunes. Though if you have the opportunity to see it at a theatre, it is an absolute MUST.

UK Steps In As Global Food Fraud Continues To Rise

When I was a child, going to the grocery store with my mother each week was an adventure… now it is a nightmare.

The same excitement that filled my eyes as I raced through the aisles, sneaking snacks into the cart is now replaced with disappointment.

Why the change? Well on top of now being restricted to a few aisles of high-priced organic products, now I have to worry if the food I am buying is actually what the label says it is.

Yes, believe it or not, food fraud, is at all time high.

ore than 1,200 tonnes of fake or substandard food and nearly 430,000 litres of counterfeit drinks have been seized in Operation Opson III an INTERPOL-Europol coordinated operation across 33 countries in the Americas, Asia and Europe. (Interpol)

More than 1,200 tonnes of fake or substandard food and nearly 430,000 litres of counterfeit drinks have been seized in Operation Opson III an INTERPOL-Europol coordinated operation across 33 countries in the Americas, Asia and Europe. (Interpol)

“Most people would be surprised at the everyday foods and drink which are being counterfeited, and the volume of seizures shows that this is a serious global problem,” said Michael Ellis, head of Interpol’s Trafficking in Illicit Goods and Counterfeiting unit.

Last year, media outlets reported on February 25, seven in 10 lamb kabobs sold in British takeout restaurants were bulked up with cheaper meats and on March 14 that pork DNA had been found in a school’s chicken sausages. Another reported that 90 percent of South African kudu (antelope) jerky was actually horse, pork, beef, giraffe, kangaroo—or even endangered mountain zebra (Food Quality & Safety).

Key aims of Operation Opson are the identification of the organized criminal networks behind the trafficking; development of practical cooperation between the involved law enforcement, food and drug agencies and private companies; and to raise awareness of the dangers posed by counterfeit and substandard foods. (Interpol)

Key aims of Operation Opson are the identification of the organized criminal networks behind the trafficking; development of practical cooperation between the involved law enforcement, food and drug agencies and private companies; and to raise awareness of the dangers posed by counterfeit and substandard foods.
(Interpol)

As a conscious consumer, this is quite disheartening. Never would I have imagined that the beef I purchase could actually be horsemeat, or that road salt is being sold as food salt, or those organic eggs I bought last week could actually be battery-caged eggs (EPRS, 2014).

Right now, there is no EU definition of food fraud, but it is best explained as food that is placed on the market to intentionally decieve the consumer.

For instance, in Italy an organized crime network behind the distribution of fake champagne was discovered. In Bangkok, Royal Thai Police recovered more than 270 bottles of fake whiskey, as well as forged stickers, labels and packaging. Officials in the Philippines seized nearly 150,000 fake stock cubes, and French police identified and shut down an illegal slaughterhouse on the outskirts of Paris. (Europol, 2014)

Wales blogger Sian advises readers to turn to their own pantry, and make their favorites dishes from scratch. But while that may be a healthier alternative, what do you do when even the basic ingredients are counterfeit?

To tackle the age-old problem, a new five-year project, led by the UK’s Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA), will attempt to close gaps in counterfeit food research.

The Food Integrity project is supported by 12 million euros of EU funding, and brings together 38 international partners.

“The UK has some of the highest standards of food safety in the world and is home to some of the best minds in science,” said Defra Minister for Food George Eustice. “I’m immensely proud that we have been chosen to drive world-leading, cutting-edge research that will improve our ability to prevent food fraud.”

For more information, visit www.fera.co.uk/events/foodIntegrity2014.

IKEA Refuses to Make Political Statement in Russia

This post was originally published on Oct. 13 and then revised on Dec. 5.

If IKEA was a person, I might describe his (yes IKEA would be a boy, and you’ll understand why later) recent developments of personal identity kind of– well–there’s no better way to put it than just plain pussy. Since IKEA is a corporate entity, though, its recent advertising botches and lack of political willpower are perhaps to be expected.

The balaclava masks in this customer-submitted photo have become a trademark of the Pussy Riot arrests. (Image from lfpress.com)

Last month, a customer from the Urals city of Yekaterinburg submitted a photo portraying four young adults wearing balaclava masks while sitting on IKEA furniture to IKEA’s website (RT.com). IKEA quickly pulled the image from the website. According to the Moscow Times, the company replaced it with the following statement:

“IKEA is a commercial organization that operates beyond politics and religion. We cannot allow our advertising project to be used as a means of propaganda of any kind.”

IKEA labeled the Pussy Riot evoking image as “propaganda” and refused to take a religious or political stand in the Pussy Riot situation. (Image from Edge of the Sandbox)

‘What’s so offensive about brightly colored masks?’ you might ask. Pussy Riot is a Russian, feminist punk band that has been causing a storm of publicity over the past few months. Some of the band’s members were recently arrested and are now being sentenced to imprisonment for an act of hooliganism, which they performed while wearing masks similar to those in the IKEA customer’s photo above. Read more about the Pussy Riot controversy in a Eurokulture blog post entitled “A Punk Band’s Prayer – Deliver Us from Putin” by Dmitry Choukline.

The contest was a part of Russia’s marketing campaign, “Face of the Cover,” which encourages shoppers in Russian MEGA malls to take their photo in front of the IKEA Catalogue cover and submit it online. Customers then vote on their favorite image, and the winner is featured in IKEA’s marketing and advertising (Wall Street Journal).

Before the image in question was removed, it garnered 1,431 likes – more than any other submission that week (First Post).

James Thomas Snyder, a blogger out of Washington D.C. who has written extensively about foreign policy, was infuriated by IKEA’s decision to pull the image from their website.

“It’s important to parse IKEA’s statement to understand just exactly how cowardly, stupid and hypocritical it is. IKEA has no grounds to pull this image and to replace it with this utterly misleading and disingenuous statement,” wrote Snyder. “The political can be defined by moral norms that we choose for others.  And in this case, IKEA is unwilling to allow others — that is, Russians — to express those particular norms in their own, free way, using IKEA as a platform.”

He argued that IKEA didn’t ultimately have to use the image for their catalogue cover but shouldn’t have removed it from the site. He called IKEA’s acts hypocritical, recalling a controversial ad that the company ran in Italy just last year.

The ad in question portrayed a gay couple with IKEA shopping bag in hand. It read, “Siamo aperti a tutte le faiglie.” or “We are open to all families.” IKEA experienced backlash from Catholic, conservative Italians who claimed that they were eroding family values (The Inspiration Room).

Most of Italy is Catholic and conservative, so this ad caused negative backlash when it ran in 2011. (Image from the TowleRoad.com)

Snyder found no fault with the portrayal of a gay couple in IKEA’s advertising…until IKEA took down the Pussy Riot image. He said they made a political statement in Italy, but didn’t allow their customers to make a political statement of their own in Russia.

I very much agree with Snyder’s position on IKEA’s hypocrisy in this situation. Right now, advertisers are using more engaging means to interact with potential and current buyers. When a brand’s constituents enter in on a participatory marketing measure, the opinions of the participants don’t necessarily represent the opinions of the brand.

I think IKEA’s reaction to the balaclava image was made in haste. Their immediate reaction was to hush any disruption that might occur on their site. When you look at other brands using social networking, blogs or other shopper-submitted input, the smart ones do not restrict the opinions of those shoppers. It reduces their credibility.

Just because someone puts a bad review on their site, doesn’t mean they should delete it. In order to appear honest and authentic, brands should not censor user input. The balaclava image wasn’t a reflection on IKEA’s ideals at all until it was removed. It represented the ideas of the submitters, but when it was removed it showed just how ready IKEA is to quell user opinions. IKEA opened itself up to controversy with its hasty reaction.

The image on the left shows a picture from the standard copy of the IKEA Catalogue, while the image on the right shows the woman airbrushed out for the Saudi Arabian catalogue. (Image from the Wall Street Journal)

Still wondering why I gendered IKEA a boy?

Shortly after removing the Russian image from their website, IKEA made another advertising move in Saudi Arabia that critics like Snyder might find cowardly. The company was discovered airbrushing women out of their catalogue before running the images in Saudi Arabia.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Saudi Arabia does not prohibit women from being portrayed in marketing materials, even though women are restricted from basic rights like studying without permission or driving a car. IKEA apologized for the airbrushed images but seems to be botching every political advertising issue that comes their way. The company issued a statement saying:

“We should have reacted and realized that excluding women from the Saudi Arabian version of the catalogue is in conflict with the IKEA Group values.”

I’m starting to wonder what those group values are.

Feministing.com got a laugh out of the apology, amazed that IKEA could apologize for, “Values like, you know, not erasing women’s existence.”

In 2000, IKEA faced rejection of two ads it created for the Moscow metro for an entirely different reason. One bragged, “Every 10th European was made in our beds.” The other had an image of the IKEA Catalogue and claimed that it was, “The most-read publication in the world. After the Bible, thank God” (The Moscow Times). These ads were rejected because they were perceived as being to forward.

Over the past year, IKEA seems to have learned a lesson about taking political stands and being controversial. Unfortunately, it seems to be the wrong lesson. Instead of inviting conversation that includes but does not directly implicate their brand, they are shunning controversy.

The Saudi Arabia incident illustrates this well, but I think the real cowardliness of IKEA was displayed through the removal of the balaclava ad. Instead of opening itself up for controversy by removing the ad, IKEA should have left the ad up and allowed controversy over the image itself to stir. This would have created exposure for the brand without shining a political light on the company. IKEA could have stood by a policy of non-censure and simply said that it does not support all opinions expressed in user submissions.

IKEA has done a bang-up job of expressing its own political opinions, but it’s time for the company to stop shying away from the opinions of others. I for one am ready for IKEA to get its marketing mojo back.

A picture is worth a thousand words. It’s also pretty destructive.

What makes political cartoons so attractive in comparison to other means of communication? As I sit here writing this blog post trying to figure out what I want to write about, it is this question that keeps popping up in my mind. The power of cartoons: why are they used as a method to communicate political themes when words could have accomplished the same thing?

The answer to the question might seem fairly obvious: provocation. Take for example the French cartoonist Charlie Hebdo and his recent depictions of the prophet Muhammed. It wasn’t too long ago his studio was set on fire in a wave of protests against his depictions. Would a similar reaction happen if the same message was conveyed in words?

Charlie Hebdo’s depiction of the prophet Muhammed

In reviewing Euro-crisis caricatures, I tend to find many of the them quite humorous. It’s easy for me to say that though: I’m an outsider – an American – looking in on the crisis. Depictions of a Greek being ran over by a car called crisis and being ‘saved’ by a Red Cross bulldozer driven by Merkel is probably hilarious to the German (I find it quite funny as well); to the Greek, however, I am thinking it is far from evoking humor. Would taking the same picture and transforming it into words have the same impact and reactions?

Angela Merkel ‘saving’ the Greek.

Using a picture, such as our aforementioned German bulldozer example, seems to have more of a profound impact on the Greek viewer than German headlines and descriptions such as “bankrupt Greeks” and “frauds in the Euro family.” Using derogatory words aren’t as effective as the action of pictures and visualizations. As the German magazine Der Spiegel reported recently, “Greeks filed a lawsuit for collective libel against the Munich-based magazine Focus several months ago after it depicted the Venus de Milo statue with an extended middle finger in February 2010.” The fact that Greeks sued over a depiction shows just how hard-hitting depictions can be.

Words just aren’t cutting it: they are only words. Even Merkel’s criticism of “southern European inefficiency” (I guess this commented offended quite a few southern Europeans) couldn’t persuade a European to sue a German; a picture, however, has the ability to enrage the masses.

I suppose the methods for decoding pictures rings closer to home than the analytical approaches used when reading. The point is much clearer and memorable because of its nonverbal nature. For example, when a German is depicted as being a Nazi during the crisis, one can automatically associate the current behavior of the Germans with the behavior of the past. Whether it is true or not, one gets the sense that a crime is being committed, an atrocity is happening, and something needs to be done. It is indeed a much easier and more efficient way of portraying a message: as they say, a picture is a thousand words.

A picture almost a thousand words.

Nonetheless, many believe cartoons are still unnecessary and aren’t as effective. According to Christina H. from Cracked.com, political cartoons

“…should be a means to get a controversial point across in a concise, effective and humorous way. In reality, most usually convey less information than, say, grunting or gesturing. Whether you agree or disagree with the message is irrelevant, as these cartoons are often shitty ass vehicles for any message. Taken on average, political cartoons are the least effective way of making a point aside from suicide bombing and Internet petitions.”

Christiana H. makes her point crystal clear: political cartoons aren’t the best way to convey a message.

The question here, then, is whether a cartoon’s efficiency of portraying a message is worth it. Does portraying Angela Merkel as a Nazi have any relevance to the crisis, or does it further tarnish the reputations of Greek citizens? One might like to think that using words, although less efficient, does less harm to a particular individual. But then again…

Angela Merkel as a Neo-Nazi.

Maybe it is the case that more laughs and positivity result from the art, rather than anger and hate. It’s been said before that the best medicine goes down much better with a bit of humor. What do you think? Do political cartoons and depictions do more harm than good, or does a questioning and analysis even matter?

From Italy With Love

As the home of famous lovers Romeo and Juliet and the birthplace of the word Romance (Roma is the stem of the word romance) it would seem quite obvious that Italy began many of our modern day love and wedding traditions.

Every woman wants a big beautiful rock on her taken finger.  Each morning she can wake up, look at the ring and know that her man loves her.  But, how did we ever decide that a diamond ring should symbolize marriage or engagement?  Well, diamond engagement rings have actually been popular in Italy since the 1400’s.  Traditionally, Italians believed that diamonds are formed by the flames of love.

Since there are no diamonds in Italy, Italians had to import them.  The diamond industry has been known to be brutal and at times, dangerous, like with blood diamonds in Africa.

Italian women used to gather their furniture, clothes and other odds and ends to offer as a dowry.  This tradition evolved over time into the modern day wedding shower.  The couple is now offered gifts that will help them to start their lives together and lessen the financial burden of the wedding in both Italy and America.

The tradition of having a lavish wedding where guests thoroughly enjoy the food, music and people has long been practiced in Italy; however, there are many traditions that did not make it to the United States from abroad.  Like this one, the groom in an Italian wedding may carry a piece of iron which symbolizes strength and will ward off evil spirits.  Also, the bride wears a veil to hide her face from the evil spirits and after the ceremony, when the party starts, it is good luck to tear the veil.

Perhaps the most different and I say disappointing tradition for Italian weddings would be this: the bride doesn’t get her solo moment.  After spending oodles of time picking out the perfect wedding gown, the bride does not get the entry where every person has their eyes on her, instead, the bride and groom enter together, which does make the entry more about the couple.  Despite their entry difference, I think Italians left everyone a pretty amazing set of traditions that make weddings and being in love incredibly special; however, it is important to remember that traditions vary by region, religion and family in the United States and in Italy.  So, while many of these traditions are well known, they are not practiced by everyone; however here is a video of the highlights of an Italian wedding.


The couple after having a traditional Italian wedding.

Street Foods in Europe

When I go to different countries, the thing I am most excited about is… food! The food that you can only taste in that country, the food that you’ve never tasted before! Especially when you are a backpacker in a foreign country, you will meet more delicious but cheap authentic foods on the street. Here I present three street foods in Europe that you can hardly find in the United States as street foods.

1. Fried Muikku from Finland

A Finnish man eating Muikku image from travelbyfood.com

In Finland, one of the most popular street food is baked Muikku. The English name of this fish is vendace. Unlike in the United States, in Finland, it’s not uncommon to see seafood on the street. Besides Muikku, you will see many other seafoods such as fried calamaries, smoked salmon and shrimp. According to travelfood.com, this fried fish costs around 5 euros, which is around 7 dollars. If you are interested in knowing other Finnish street foods, you can go this blog and explore more about Finnish street foods: http://www.travelbyfood.com/streetfoodfinland1.php

2. Patat Oorlong from the Netherlands

Patat Oorlog image from simplyjacy.com

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of fries? Many of you, including me, might think of ketchup. Of course the only french fries’ best friend is ketchup, right? Well, in the Netherlands, you can meet other accompaniments to French fries. They are mayonnaise and peanut sauce. The combination of the ingredients might sound strange to some of you, but maybe that’s because you’ve never tried patatje oorlog in the Netherlands. You can also add onions on the top of patatje oorlog if you want. The cone-shaped holder seems to make patatje oorlog more interesting. For those of you who like to know more about patatje oorlog, here’s a link: http://streetcuisine.blogspot.com/2011/01/patat-oorlog-dutch-street-fusion.html

3. Arancini from Italy

Arancini image from italian-food-lovers.com

Arancini is fried rice ball in Italy. Arancini is originally from Sicili, and now you can also meet this food on all the streets in Italy. Before being fried, the rice was actually risotto that we all are familiar with. Inside the freshly-fried risotto, there is gourmet mozarella cheese. It must be good because it’s made in Italy.For those who want to taste this Italian street food without going to Italy, here’s the link to an arancini recipe!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mKGB6-W0I_Q

Who got knocked up by Ronaldo?

Christiano Ronaldo’s name carries far beyond the sport of soccer. In addition to being a Portuguese soccer star that plays professionally for Real Madrid, he is seen in advertisements and promotions across the world, like the one below:

Ronaldo recently caught headlines around the world when he had a son, but the mother of that son isn’t being revealed. This raises the question, who could the mother be? The only thing that Ronaldo would say about it is:

It is with great joy and emotion that I inform I have recently become father to a baby boy. As agreed with the baby’s mother, who prefers to have her identity kept confidential, my son will be under my exclusive guardianship. No further information will be provided on this subject and I request everyone to fully respect my right to privacy (and that of the child) at least on issues as personal as these are.”

Ronaldo has dated women from all over the world, including from America, Russia, Italy, Colombia, Brazil, India and his home country of Portugal. Most of these women are either models or celebrities. All of this considered, it makes it extremely difficult to try and figure out who the mother of the child is. In this blog post, SoccerLens lists all of the prospects and the likelihood that each one is the mother.

One of Soccerlen’s prospects and Ronaldo’s current girlfriend, Russian lingerie model Irina Shayk, reacted to the news on Facebook, saying:

My boyfriend is now father of a boy.”

Soccer star Christiano Ronaldo sits next to his current girlfriend, Russian model Irina Shayk. Is Shayk the mother of Ronaldo's newborn son?

So who is the mother? Is it Shayk? Or could it possibly be another celebrity that Ronaldo has previously dated, such as:

SoccerLens doesn’t believe any of these are likely, but the rumors of who the mother is do make it interesting, even to people who aren’t soccer fans.

Could it possibly be someone who isn’t even on this list? This blog believes that the mother is an American woman that Ronaldo picked up one night at the bars.

For a pop culture icon to date only date supermodels, it shows how accepting society is of lingerie models. This used to be considered a lowly profession, but now it is one that brings fame and money. The western world adores lingerie models, but also criticizes the eastern part of the world for making the women wear veils, not allowing them to drive, etc. However, the western world is in a way being hypocritical, since it can also be criticized for the way it treats its women, such as making them wear stuff that is “sexy” and “inappropriate” and encouraging them to be as skinny as possible.

Ronaldo and Shayk are rumored to be engaged and planning on marrying in 2011, which begs the question of if Shayk is not the mother, than how is the real mother taking to the fact that her son’s dad is about to be married to another woman? Also, why is the mother willing to give up her son?

Ronaldo captained Portugal during the team’s World Cup campaign in South Africa, which ended with a 1-0 defeat to Spain in the second round. Here are some highlights of the soccer player, who is considered to be one of the best in the world.

Nazi Soccer

Soccer derbies are always games of particular interest. The last game between Hamburger SV and FC St Pauli was no exception. Most fans are simply looking forward to a great and exciting game, some idiots see derbies as a chance to not only beat their opponent, but to beat up their fans and sometimes even players as well. Unfortunately, violence and soccer come together every once in a while, but when three Hamburg hooligans beat up Pauli-keeper Benedikt Pliquett, a right wing party saw this as a sign. Their conclusion: If three fans attack the Pauli-keeper – St. Pauli is notoriously left wing (if soccer teams are political) – many HSV fans are in favor of violence against left-wing ideas. At the next home game,  the NPD set up a booth to advertise their ideas.  Fortunately, this really is the exception in Germany and racist or right-wing fans have largely been eliminated from stadiums since the 1980s.

Maura Zarate saluting the team

Italy, sadly, is a different story and racist fans are notoriously violent. Just a few months ago, Italian newspaper “Il Messaggero” published a picture of Lazio’s Maura Zarate raising his right arm to salute the team. This, at least in Rome, is not an exception. Former team captain Paolo di Canio is known to the European soccer world for mainly two things. His tattoo saying dux, which is latin for Führer (Führer here does not mean Hitler but Mussolini, whom he admittedly admires) and his unacceptable gestures toward the Lazio fans.

Not convinced yet? Romanian Adrian Mutu of Fiorentina was insulted and booed at after the wife of an Italian Marine was allegedly killed by a Romanian the week before the game. When playing Werder Bremen in the European Cup, Lazio fans responded to banners against racism (“Zusammen gegen Rassismus”) by celebrating Italian dictator Mussolini. During the game, Werder’s Ivorian forward Boubacar Sanogo was mocked with monkey noises.

Paolo di Canio

Still not convinced? During the derby against AS Rome, a left-wing club, Lazio followers displayed banners saying “Auschwitz is your homeland – the ovens are where you belong!But radical soccer fans are not a Roman phenomenon. In Sicily, soccer fans killed a police officer in riots after he testified in a trial against rightwing extremist fans.

Neither is it a solely Italian phenomenon. Racist fans have become a problem in France, Spain and Poland, as well. But what can be done to prevent these nasty incidents that spoil the excitement of the games? German soccer fans have set a great example. When politicians and club officials were unable to fight racism, the fans took matters in their own hands.

In an interview with 11 Freunde magazine, Hamburg fan Bernd Kroschewski stated, that he and other fans were embarrassed by racist insults toward Hamburg player Souleyman Sané.

Natürlich haben mich auch früher schon Dinge gestört, etwa die rassistischen Rufe von irgendwelchen Neo-Nazis gegen Souleyman Sané. Damals habe ich mich wirklich geschämt, dass es um mich herum solche Leute gab, die im gleichen Stadion stehen und den gleichen Verein anfeuern.

When neo-nazis tried to take over the stands, most fans helped getting rid of advertisement stickers on the stadium walls and simply did not support any kind of agitation against, for example, colored players. The fan body did not allow neo-nazis to take over. Today, the German Bundesliga is comparably family friendly and dads can bring their sons without being afraid of getting caught in between violent fan groups. This is largely due to the fans themselves.

It will be interesting to see how Italy copes with the increased violence. Lately, Italian Minister of the Interior Giuseppe Pisanu announced that he does not have a problem with closing stadiums to the public or even cancelling games. But as Germany has shown, the fans themselves have the biggest influence on what happens in the stands. After all, soccer is just a game that everyone should be allowed to enjoy. Violence and violent ideologies cannot be tolerated.

Lazio fans